An Australian MP Is Introducing A Bill To Ban Loot Boxes For Under 18s

An Australian MP Is Introducing A Bill To Ban Loot Boxes For Under 18s
A loot box from Overwatch.

An Australian independent lower house MP will be introducing a bill to Parliament next month to ban the sale of “loot boxes” towards minors.

First reported by the Daily Telegraph (paywalled) on Sunday, the bill will be introduced by Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie. While the full text of the proposed legislation hasn’t been provided yet, Mr Wilkie said his bill would block loot boxes being targeted to minors through the classification guidelines.

“We as a country accept that people over the age of 18 can gamble but let’s make that for adults and giving parents a warning,” the independent MP told the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Wilkie argued that video games using loot box mechanics were grooming young children “for future gambling” and that any game featuring loot boxes should be tagged with a R18+ rating. The changes would also add a new notification, so games featuring loot boxes would receive an advisory as part of its classification rating. Some advisories listed on games today, for instance, include strong science fiction themes, coarse language, online interactivity, interactive drug use, and more.

“It’s not clear if that’s what game companies design but it’s self-evident that they have that effect,” he said. “To allow very young children to pay cash for a randomised event that may or may not reward them that would meet any definition of gambling.”

The Classification Amendment (Loot Boxes) Bill will be put before the lower house in mid-August. I’ve contacted Andrew Wilkie’s office to get a better understanding of the text of the bill, and for Wilkie’s thoughts as to why the bill is being introduced now. I’ve also reached out to the head of the Parliamentary Friends of Video Games committee to understand how much bipartisan Wilkie’s bill might have, and whether it’s likely to gain passage through the House of Representatives once its introduced.

Comments

  • “We as a country accept that people over the age of 18 can gamble but let’s make that for adults and giving parents a warning,”

    Has to be the most reasonable piece of common sense the Daily Tele has ever published! Amazed it got past the editorial team.

  • My thoughts, I want developers to be licensed to sell loot boxes or other “surprises”. That their is a compliance standard, auditing and a regulations on “in-game advertising”

    In-game items can NOT be exclusive to loot boxes, and must also be available for purchase as an individual item in store.

    Odds must be listed, including any mechanics that guarantee drops.

  • I wonder how many video game industry lobbyists will crawl out if the woodwork now?

    Reminder to all politicians, most video game publishers charge for lootbox by credit card to offshore accounts. They do not pay taxes on that revenue! They avoid taxes, they don’t deserve to have a voice.

    • There are rules in place for that. In a nutshell, its called Connected To Australia, and its pretty open in the interpretation of whats connected.

      About 20 years ago I was involved with two rather large companies, who shall remain nameless, who were seeking GST rulings on the very topic. One claimed their subscriptions shouldnt be subject to GST, because the matchmaking happened overseas. I think it was Singapore.

      The other accepted the matchmaking was linked here, but was arguing for some other reason. I cant remember what it was. Rulings like that were pretty common back then, GST was still relatively new, and new issues would pop up all the time. But both arguments had some merit, so it wasnt straightforward at the time and rulings were needed.

      The ruling was pretty clear that the in-game payments (in this case subscriptions) were subject to GST. The player was in Australia, the game was being launched from their device in Australia, and they were seeing the result of the game in Australia. Their payments were connected to Australia.

      So whether these things should be taxed in Australia or not isnt an issue. They are, and there are public rulings (which have the force of law) saying such. If someone has evidence they arent being reported, they need to dob them in. The rulings, and the concepts behind them havent changed and the revenue being lost would not be insignificant. If its just a belief, then sorry, theres nothing to be done.

      Dont think the ATO doesnt look at those things. They do. And those companies get audited far more often than people realise.

  • Thank you for the paywall tag next to the Tele article. And thank god, someone in politics is finally doing something about this problem. It’s a small thing, but it’s brightened up my morning.

  • Theres a classification for Interactive Drug Use? >_>

    Slap that on Saints Row 4 and release it uncensored! >.<

  • “Strong science fiction themes”?! Who the hell is that for?

    “Sorry, son, we don’t truck with your first contacts and the cybernetic revolutions. It’s near-future realism only for us.”

  • They’d better have a very comprehensive guide as to what constitutes loot boxes and when games will be slapped with a rating. Many games don’t let you directly buy lootboxes, instead they have premium currencies that you can spend on some fixed items as well as lootboxes so you’re not directly paying for them.

    Do gacha games count as loot boxes? Are they planning to require mobile games to now have ratings to be distributed in Australia?

    Lootboxes are a problem, but to introduce 18+ rating requirements for anything that smells “lootboxish” is going to have significant ramifications across the entire industry. It all seems rather knee jerk.

    • Not actually knee jerk. This has been boiling away in the back rooms of Parliment for 3 years now, Wilkie is just pushing a committee recommendation made in March last year.

      A Parlimentary Committee in March 2020, following up on the 2018 Senate Inquiry into Microtransactions, made the following Recommendations in a 114 page report…

      Recommendation 4 recommends that the Australian Government, through the National Consumer Protection Framework for Online Wagering, introduce a requirement that customers are not able to use an online wagering service prior to verification of their age as 18 years or over.

      Recommendation 5 Options for restricting access to loot boxes and other simulated gambling elements in computer and video games to adults aged 18 years or over, including through the use of mandatory age verification.

  • Fair first step. Consumers and the vulnerable need stronger protections, and this form of gambling should be recognized for what it is, and taxed/regulated appropriately, but at least this might help protect the children and give publishers at least a moment’s pause when thinking about having to choose between lootbox revenue or access to the under 18 audience.

    • 100% support taxing microtransactions, for that to be in full effect they also need escrow those funds in Australia and have regulated book keeping.

      Currently most MTX are offshore payments, or through major digital stores like Apple or Sony that pay less than 1% to the dollar (after GST)

      • Do you understand how misleading the “Apple pays 1% tax” statement is? It ignores a hell of a lot of basic business understanding, and global taxes in general. Its correct, more or less, but it leaves some pretty important information out.

        I’ll put it a different way. Woolworths pays 1% tax. Does that generate the same level of hate as it being Apple, or Sony? Its quite a common tax rate, with many large companies paying that.

        Woolies cuts 97% of its revenue out before tax and nobody bats an eyelid. $2b in profit out of $60b in revenue, meaning ~$600m in tax. Apple isnt any different, its just a matter of scale. With physical products, its certainly the case and the cost breakdown is pretty straightforward. With digital, not so much, but still a factor. There are still costs that come out though, such as the 70% that goes to the game maker.

        In addition, when they figure out a workable solution to what IS potentially siphoned, its not going to benefit Australia anyway. Little secret, but when the siphoning issue is sorted, the money is going to be taxed where the companies were founded. So the US or Japan.

        Which means, when everything is taxed, they will still be paying 1% of their revenue in taxes in Australia. Just like Woolies does.

        Those online MTX payments are doing nothing wrong. You arent trading with the company in Australia, you’re trading with a foreign company, who is subject to the laws of their country before us. And because of other laws, its a very grey area to connect it back to Australia.

        You’re effectively just sending money overseas for a right of access, thats it. Not the product you think you’re buying. They then have an agreement with an Australian company to complete the access, and pay a fee to them. Its THAT fee that gets hit with Australian laws, not the money you pay.

        The amount you’ve paid, less that fee, is whats going to be subject to whatever international agreement that eventuates. And again, is going to end up being taxed somewhere other than Australia. It used to be Singapore they used, and now its Ireland, but NZ is also a possible loophole.

        I dont think people understand how complex the situation is (there are a LOT more issues than just these), and how little Australia is going to get out of it when its all sorted. And using a generic statement like “Apple and Sony pay 1% in tax” doesnt help, because it just means people will expect them to pay 30x that amount, which isnt going to happen, increases disappointment when the taxes dont come to Australia anyway, and ignores that its a pretty common figure for business taxes.

  • It’s a start. Ideally, loot boxes and similar mechanics where you pay money for random rewards should be classed as gambling and regulated as such with: same taxes as other gambling, requirement for the display of odds, and serious penalties for allowing minors to participate.

    If such laws were instituted in enough markets, I expect most game devs would just stop adding such mechanics to their games, which is what I want. If I wanted to play the pokies, I’d go do that.

    • A lot of titles actually do show the odds on Lootboxes, some breaking it down to the percentage chance of every individual possible items, due to laws in other countries.

      They successfully scare me off a number of titles.

  • Wilkie is a Tasmanian MP, he has a strong anti-gambling position, he prefers strong legislation and then pushes back on gambling organisations who don’t obey the law and legislations.

    Tasmanian Government just release their Social and Economic Impact Studies (SEIS) study for June 2021, an independent review of the social and economic impact of gambling in Tasmania is conducted every three years. There was a section on loot boxes and online casino gaming, interesting read.

    https://www.treasury.tas.gov.au/liquor-and-gaming/gambling/reduce-harm-from-gambling/social-and-economic-impact-studies

  • That’s ok, most companies have moved on to calling them different things now such as surprise mechanics etc… all legally bypassing such a law.

  • I’d also like to see some sort of arbitrary cap on spending. There’s a bunch of holes in this idea sure but whatever, like in total players couldn’t spend more then say 25 bucks a week on in game purchases & for heavens sake some sort of standard that’s law where for each dollar spent in game equals the worded value of credit in game. So spend 5 dollars then that’s converted to 5 gold, 5 either, 5 rupees what have you.

    Anyway that’s my two cents.

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